Exercise is easily neglected while travelling. Why bother heading for the running machine when your life involves walking all over the place and looking at cool shit? Who needs weights when you’ve just lugged your suitcase up another fancy hotel staircase? And didn’t we spend the morning swimming in the sea?
But a digital nomad’s lifestyle can be deceptively sedentary.
When your average day feels like some sort of extended vacation, there’s a danger of behaving like a holidaymaker all the time. And trust us when we say that the belly’s gonna get yer if you don’t keep tabs on your health and fitness while leading a life-nomadic.
Many long-term travellers sit for hours at their laptops, working at their remote jobs. Even if you don’t spend all day lounging by a pool or dozing in a hammock, those red-eye flights and 14-hour bus rides (like the one I’m typing this article on, fool that I am) will punish your body rather than perfect it.
And finding a solution can be a challenge.
For one, it’s tricky trying to sign up for a gym when your membership will last only as long as you stick around in a city (which averages at about 10 days for us). Then there’s the question of routine. Waking up in so many locations over a matter of months makes it hard to rise at the same hour each day, let alone actually keep to any kind of fitness schedule.
And unless you want to look like Buckaroo the mobile gym mule, you can forget about equipment. Imagine how much weight allowance you’d need for your flights if you carried dumbbells and benches around with you. You’d be told to jog on, and not for the good of your health.
Yoga is the answer.
As a method of keeping fit, staying active and feeling fantastic, it’s the perfect fit for wanderers with no fixed abode.
All for one
You can do it alone. In fact, it’s meant to be practised alone. There’s no competitiveness involved. No trophies to win or points to score. No need to show off getting your ankle over your armpit. And unless you’re a complete newbie who’s scared of popping a hip joint while in the pigeon-posture, there’s no need to seek out a team or group (although even if you are a novice, the Internet can help too – read on to learn more).
Keep it simple
You don’t need any special equipment. Even a yoga mat is optional, although a lot of the stretches really require something soft under you to support yourself, unless you want a spine that feels like someone smacked it with a staircase. If you decide to carry a mat on your travels, they are usually light and flexible enough to strap to a pack. We have carried ours across three continents, through domestic and international flights and past tutting Kiwi flight attendants who thought they might fall off en route to Wellington.
Some yoga practitioners like to work with props such as supporting blocks or comfy towels, and even these can be fashioned from objects around you. With yoga, all you need to bring to the space is yourself.
Yoga can be done almost anywhere, at any time, as long as you have the space to stretch out. If you can adapt to your surroundings and change your practice accordingly, there’s no need to ever miss a daily session: gentle yoga can even be done on a narrow hotel bed, although make sure your sleeping partner has got up first, lest they accidentally end up with your big toe up their bum.
We try to do some yoga every day, wherever we are, even if it’s only a 5-minute session before heading off to teach early morning classes or catch a flight.
The great thing about yoga is that you set your own bar. Sometimes the best I can manage is a forward fold and face-planting into my bed. Then other days I make up for it by doing at least an hour’s worth of wonderful stretches and deep breathing exercises, like the time I got up at 4.30am and walked a mile across a Nepalese village to join a group of locals. We practised on a slope with a view of the Himalayas, gently folding and bowing in unison as the sun rose over the mountains and a score of roosters crowed to greet the day. Yoga at its most epic.
Many people may say that yoga isn’t intense enough for them or that they can’t lose weight whilst doing it. This is a common misconception most likely acquired through seeing flaky hippies on TV doing what could only be called falling asleep in a strange position.
Let me break that misconception now. Yoga is proven to stimulate the metabolism, so if you do it every day over time, it will have an accumulative effect on your weight loss. It really is a case of having to wait to see results; your body is toning itself from the inside out!
For those who can’t bear to leave their weights behind and are afraid of losing muscle mass while doing yoga, take heed that yoga is essentially resistance weight training! There are no weights required when you can use your own body weight to strengthen and tone. Instead of doing more reps to build muscles, you can do longer, more intense yoga sessions.
When I really want to rev up my yoga practices to feel the burn, I do 23 sun salutations in a row. This feels so awesome and really makes you realise how fantastically supple and strong our bodies are! I’ve never felt the same sensation of well-being while doing weights.
Long term travel can wear you down mentally as well as physically. Travel fatigue often sets in and can even lead to some form of depression (see our blog post “Even travelling can’t help you escape depression”).
Yoga doesn’t just tone the body, it also tones the mind, making it an ideal way to strengthen mental health during travel. It’s a moving meditation that’s worth persevering with, even if it seems challenging. The act of rolling out your mat and making time for yourself is invaluable, and regardless of how many times you fall over during crow pose or fart while doing the downward dog, you will always step off that mat feeling lighter, energised and more content than before you stepped on it.
The Spiritual Side
It isn’t just the bending, breathing, stretching part of yoga that’s so important for well-being. Warming up and closing the practice in the right way is also crucial. The practice of yoga is aimed at balancing your chakras or spiritual energy within the body. While in the practice you are opening yourself up and putting your energy in a more sensitive state. We all hide behind walls of self-consciousness at times and in yoga it’s so important to allow yourself to let go of that.
In letting go we make ourselves more vulnerable so it’s important to end the practice with a yogic seal of some kind. This can be as simple as putting your hands to prayer position in front of your heart, closing your eyes, breathing in and saying “Namaste” or by putting both arms behind your back (whilst sitting) wrapping the left thumb and index finger around the right wrist and gently bending forward until your forehead touches the ground, (get a pillow or some books if it doesn’t) relax in this state, breathe deeply and when you feel ready slowly come up and return to seated position.
Of course, you don’t have to do this. But if you’re of a spiritual persuasion then this will seal the energy of the yoga practice into your body and keep you protected in the day to come. And who knows, you might even feel doing some meditation afterwards!
I would totally recommend doing a yoga “Nidra” at the end too, which is a guided deep relaxation practice and is so lovely - just try not to fall asleep! You can find many of these yoga “Nidra” guides on YouTube.
Teach me, Oh wise one!
The last point I’d like to mention is having a teacher. When first starting yoga I would recommend finding a class nearby and attending as often as you can. The experience of having a qualified teacher in the same room as you is so beneficial for your practice; they will help you adjust the practice to your specific needs. You can then take this knowledge away with you to practice at home or on the move.
If this isn’t an option for you then YouTube it is...
There are so many great online teachers out there. My only advice is, if they annoy you, change them! Not every teacher is an enlightened being, (which to be fair, is probably a reason that they’ve become a teacher in the first place, so that they can reach enlightenment). But if you’re 15 minutes into a lesson and you’re still listening to the teacher drivel on about how they’re not in such a great place today and how the practice is all about how to make them feel better, don’t waste any more megabytes on them. Find another one and keep trying different teachers until you find the one right for you.
One of our favourite teachers is Adriene Mishler at www.yogawithadriene.com, a sunny, shining lady who is so popular, she has over 2 million subscribers to her channel. And if her bubbly, comedic energy is a bit too distracting, you can find plenty more serious, sober practitioners on the web.
So, what are you waiting for?
Yoga is an empowering, spiritual, strengthening way to keep yourself feeling good while on the move. Whether you’re a complete beginner or an out-of-practice yogi, you can do this exercise virtually any time, anywhere.
All you have to do is find a mat and get on it!